On April 11, our editor sent me an email with the following:
“I had an article idea for you which has come up from me wanting to ask a question on the forum, but thought it could have broader reach as an article on the main site: Deciding to DNS.”
There was unintentional foresight with the that email, both from his asking and from my delay in writing about the topic. I suppose I could have put together some ideas of when I think it might be logical or safe to not start a race, but my rolodex of experiences was lacking one thing: making that decision when emotions are involved.
On May 15, I was faced with making such a decision one day before Ironman Texas:
Five days earlier a doctor told me I had developed pneumonia, which could likely be traced back to a virus I picked up in early April that, in hindsight, lingered much longer than it should have. Had I been racing any other event, I would have withdrawn as soon as I was given this diagnosis, but this was different. I had raced IMTX every year; I was born and raised in Houston and I had planned (and still plan) to race this event every year until I stop racing professionally. From the moment I finished in 2014, I began to think about what I could do to win 365 days later. Now, with five days to go, I was going to likely lose the opportunity to even start, let alone compete for the victory.
Regardless of the likely outcome, I made the trip to Texas. I held out hope that maybe going through the motions, thinking positively and keeping everything day-to-day, I might recover enough to start. I did make a lot of progress each day which ultimately only complicated making any decision; however, any time I tried a workout, I was reminded of how hard my body had been hit with this illness. And after a final visit with my doctor the afternoon before the race, I made the decision to not start.
I wouldn’t necessarily categorize the decision as hard to make; I would just consider it sad and disappointing to make. Ultimately, I felt that starting, and trying to race at my highest level, would only result in further health complications and likely compromise the remainder of the season, if not beyond.
Unfortunately, I do not think there are any hard, fast rules to determining when to not start a race. I wish there was, I could have used them. The only advice I can give is to make the decision with the big picture in mind; what that actually entails will vary from athlete to athlete and from race to race. Sometimes you have to live to fight another day.